Thursday, April 23, 2009

Virgil's Tomb

(Pictures: A close-up of the fresco at the top of Grotto Vecchia, the dilapidated temple perched above the park where Virgil's remains were once said to have been, the bust of Virgil, the walkway from the entrance to the bust of Virgil, the trapezoidal Grotto Vecchia -- also called the Crypta Napoletana, and the entrance gate off the busy Naples street.)

La calma e la virtu dei forti.
(The calm is the virtue of the strong.)

Nook of Naples: After a decade of writing The Aeneid while living in Naples, Virgil traveled with his friend and patron, Emperor Augustus, to Greece in 19 B.C. During the trip, he caught a fever and died in Brundisium. He left his epic poem unfinished, giving instructions to have the book burned. Instead, Augustus charged two of Virgil's friends to prepare the work for publication. Once published, it was an instant success.

Virgil's ashes were sent back to Naples and today a park between the districts of Mergellina and Fuorigrotta claims to be the place of Virgil's Tomb. Visitors can park their car up on the sidewalk and then stroll through unmanned gates. A concrete path leads to an alcove that has a bust of Virgil. Along the path, gardeners have planted vegetation that Virgil wrote about in his works, including strawberries, myrtle, and ivy.

The path winds up to the trapezoidal Grotto Vecchia, also called the Crypta Napoletana. It's a mammoth tunnel cut into the tuff-stone cliff and measures about 700 meters long by 16 meters wide. Created during the first century B.C., a locked fence bars visitors from entering. Cut into the tuf0-stone ceiling, a bright colored fresco of the Madonna is preserved from paleo-Christian times when the grotto was turned into a church.

The early Renaissance humanist, Petrarch, wrote that a chapel was built here in an attempt to curb pilgrims during the early Middle Ages from gathering for all-night parties and orgies in honor of the goddess Mithras. Interestingly, the Catholic Church later adopted these gatherings as part of its own tradition, creating a riotous celebration at this location for the Madonna of Piedigrotta.

To the right of the Grotto Vecchia, steps lead to a Roman aqueduct that once carried water along a 100 kilometer route. Then more steps lead to a sanctuary. Inside, a tripod burner originally dedicated to Apollo sits in a hollow space. This may have been the place where Virgil's ashes once rested. Today, of course, his remains are lost to time. From the shrine, a stunning view of downtown Naples makes the park and grotto feel like a great place to hold a riotous gathering.

Getting There: 20 Via Salita della Grotta 80122 or by Metro to Mergellina. The Tomb lies right before a tunnel, so it's easy to miss and there's no parking except up on the sidewalk. To get there, you'll also have to wade through the Naples traffic. The Metro might be an excellent choice.

Music: One of the hottest Italian artists here is Giusy Ferreri, a thirty-year-old singer and songwriter from Palermo, Italy. Giusy's voice has a unique mixture of jazz, flamenco, and top-forty flair. Her albums include: Gaetana, Piu'di me, and Fortissimi 2009. To buy her CD's, click here: the Feltrinelli Bookstore and search under the music section.

La Cucina Napoletana: In my last post, I added a recipe for short dry pasta. The other variety is fresh pasta. The difference between dry and fresh pasta lies in their differing water content. Often, people in the southern part of Italy prepare their pasta (both dry and fresh) without eggs. From the cookbook Pasta: Passione e Fantasia, here's a simple recipe:

Fresh Pasta

2 cups flour
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Create a fountain with the flour and then create a well in the middle. Pour tepid water inside along with the salt. Knead the dough energetically. Thereafter, shape the pasta.

Pasta with Anchovy Tomato Sauce
Anchovies are another staple in Naples, found in every household cupboard. Here is a sauce that goes well with fresh fettuccine:

1 cup salted anchovies
1 clove of garlic
2 cups tomato sauce
4 anchovy fillets

Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan, then add one clove of crushed garlic. Over medium heat, add the anchovies and fry until they are dissolved. Add the tomato sauce to the pan, mix, cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Ladle the sauce over fresh fettuccine and decorate the plate with rolled up anchovy fillets.

The salty taste should remind you of the sea.
Buena Sera!


Ron Petley said...

Geat Blog, I to have lived in Naples, many years ago. I had hunted out Virgils Tomb when I was in Naples. At the time it was not marked or a park and we had to scramble over a fence to get into it. We had identiefied the site from a old woodcut. It was a great adventure to track it down.
Cheers Ron.

Barbara said...

Hi Ron!

Thanks for writing. Your story is absolutely wonderful and what a great adventure that must have been! Thanks to the tunnel and having to park on the sidewalk next to revving traffic, it still feels like a bit of an adventure. :)